Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Doomsday Problem: Part 1

Lately, I've sensed a certain post-millenial fear borne on the winds that blow through the interstices of the web. The stink of paranoia, the scent of conspiracies. Such smells suggest breeding grounds, just like a good pile of horse manure is for maggots.
The line between dangerous domestic cults and international terrorism in Al Qaeda form is thin and often non-existent.
The following was printed in the February, 1998 issue of Blue Line Magazine. Blue Line describes itself as "Canada's Law Enforcement Magazine" and is a good resource for anyone directly or indirectly associated with enforcement.
You may decide the following is only backstory, with a specific audience and limited application. You may not.
As before, I will post it in sections.

It's the same old story: damned if you do - damned if you don't. Law enforcement agencies face a familar frustration when investigating doomsday cults such as the Solar Temple and Heaven's Gate.
The public, enraged when deaths occur, and with the benefit of perfect hindsight, are sometimes highly critical of police response. "Effective monitoring of the cult members would have prevented the second and third set of Solar Temple murder-suicides," critics claim. "The police did too little. They dragged their feet."
But speculative surveillance is costly, infiltration often inappropriate, and informants, dubious.
In the Solar Temple case, the Surete de Quebec would have had to commit at least 80 officers to watch 40 plus people over a period of 15 months. At the end of that time, there is no evidence such observation could have prevented the third incident at St. Casimir, but a reasonable certainty the Surete would have faced harassment charges.
On the other hand, in the aftermath of the Waco, Texas, debacle and the Ipperwash standoff, law enforcement was accused of jack-booting over civil liberties and religious freedoms. The police did too much, critics claim.
Some civil liberty activists will argue that policing agencies have no business even assessing spiritual groups; preferring, one might conclude, that a policeman's main role is simply clearing away the bodies. Furthermore, some cult leaders are particularly adept at indignant outrage at police interest and play the ethnic, religious or race cards with consumate skill.
If the social prophets are correct, this perennial problem will become more acute.
As the millennium approaches, social analysts and cult observers tend to agree in predicting a rise in deadly incidents by "End of the World" believers and Doomsday cults. With just two years to the millennium, they say, Apocalypse is now.
The death toll (38+2) from the Heaven's Gate cult in San Diego, California, and the repetitive Solar Temple murder/suicides ( 74 dead so far) in Quebec and Europe tend to remove this prediction from the realm of academic speculation. The memory of the Aum Shinri sarin attack in Tokyo, the Branch Davidian tragedy at Waco, Texas, and the Christian Identity linkages with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, is recent enough to reinforce the reality of the threat.
Since religious freedoms and civil rights do not extend to the right to abuse and murder children and dissenters, bomb government offices, casually gas commuters in the subway, smuggle drugs and guns or shoot law enforcement officers, the activities of some cults will encourage a police response, millennium or not.

-continued tomorrow.

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